28 Sep 2006

Green Mars/Blue Mars: Interview with Mat Sellwood

Here another Another Green World interview, this time with Councillor Matt Sellwood, an Oxford Councillor and former member of the Green Party Executive.

1. How did you come to join the Green Party?

I joined the Green Party in 2001, as I arrived at university in Oxford. I had been considering what the best route 'electorally progressive' route was for a while before that, and had come to the conclusion that the Greens were the party for me - but it seemed pointless to join the year before, as I was to move to a new city that was a hotspot of Green activity. I soon got 'stuck in' as the joint co-ordinator of Oxford Green Party Students and was elected to my Student Union Council as a Green. The obvious big inspirations to me at that time were the Green councillors for Oxford city centre (the late Mike Woodin and Paul Ingram, who was Co-Leader of the City Council at the time) and Caroline Lucas. Listening to a speech by Caroline on the linkages between global justice and sustainability was the 'tipping point'for my decision to join the Party.

2. Why do you think the Green Party is so strong in Oxford, do you have any tips for how other local parties can succeed?

Rather prosaicly, I think it mostly has to do with a lot of hard work and graft. Obviously Oxford can be a receptive place to Green ideas, particularly our 'fortress' of East Oxford, with its multicultural atmosphere and strong activist scene - but you still have to do the work. People like Mike, Caroline, Craig Simmons and Elise Benjamin worked for years before I arrived to establish the base for our success. We're now taken seriously as the 'third major party' in the City - to the detriment of the Tories. It's a good place to work.

3. What is your greatest achievement as a councillor?

There have been lots, but I think probably Oxford's Climate Change Action Plan. It's the thing for which I can take the most 'single' credit, I think - our lack of one was the subject of my very first question to Council, and I pursued it through council and the budget process (utilising the Green Group's 'balance of power' in those negotiations) until now, when we have a fully fledged Climate Change Action Team, with a large budget and lots of activity. That has been very satisfying.

4. I have the impression that you have been involved with the global justice movement, anti-capitalist movement, can you tell me more?

Yes - that is where my political roots lie. During my time at University, my electoral efforts were really quite secondary to my grassroots organising - I co-founded Oxford University 'Switch to Green' Coalition (which succeeded in getting the University to change 100% of its energy supplies to renewable energy), founded Oxford Students Stop the War, and helped to create the Oxford Students Activist Network. I was also co-chair of OU People and planet and various other things. I got well known as an activist in the University (my first term I was arrested with Tommy Sheridan MSP at Faslane) and did lots of stuff around DSEI, the war etc. Probably my most memorable activities were around the Evian G8 summit, when I helped organise a massive samba bloc in Lausanne, the roots of which came from my affinity group in
Oxford. I've tried to keep those roots now that I am a 'part time' politician, which can be a challenge, but is very important. Probably my greatest frustration is that even when I proactively try to use the political process/power of the Council to assist activist groups and create political space for them to operate, the efforts of the Greens are often dismissed as 'refomist'. Obviously they are, but if someone is offering help and is in a position of power, I reckon you take it.

I also work next to Corporate Watch and so on, so I guess I can keep up to date with whats going on in the activist world just by having lunch with people.

5. You are a Buddhist, as some one who practices zen, can you tell me more about how this fits with your green commitement?

Well, I'm not a Zen Buddhist - I'm one of those awful people who nicks stuff from all kinds of traditions and fashions it into something that suits them. The main body
of my practice is from Thai Therevada, but as an anti-authoritarian I have big problems with their hierarchical church structure, so I'm not really 'part' of it in any meaningful way. Another big part of my practice is meditation on Kuan Yin (Chinese Boddhisattva of Infinite Compassion), and obviously that fits into my political work prettywell. I wouldn't do what I do unless I tried to have compassion and empathy for people - I'd join most of the rest of my mates from school and Uni and work in the city! My practice provides the moral underpinning for what I do politically, and why I do it.

6. Green Left? Ecosocialism? Why is social justice and anti-capitalism important to green politics in your view?

Green politics *is* social justice and anti-capitalism, and cannot be anything else. I don't want to live in a world that is sustainable but fascistic - nor do I think it is logically possible to live in a world that is sustainable and yet practices an economic creed that preaches infinite economic growth and exploitation of natural resources/people. I often wish that I *didn't* think these things - taking a Porrit like approach would be much easier! - but it would also be pointless, as ultimately it wouldn't get us anywhere. Green politics should not, and cannot, be about simply
fitting a few more solar panels to peoples roofs. Its about a fundamental shift in our social and economic paradigm. Which is why its so bloody hard!

7. Favourite film?

Hmm - I have quite a few. I'm a big fan of 'Land and Freedom' by Ken Loach - also think that 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' is great. Ultimately though, I have to submit to my inner geek and admit that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is probably my favourite.

8. Favourite book?

Even harder question! Novel wise it is a straight tie between 'Anna Karenina' by Tolstoy, and the 'Mars Trilogy' (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) by Kim Stanley Robinson. Poetry wise, its anything by Gary Snyder, and non-fiction? Probably 'Defeat Into Victory' by Field Marshall the Viscount Slim (weren't expecting that, were you)! That'll teach you to stereotype greens!


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Anonymous said...

"an economic creed that preaches infinite economic growth and exploitation of natural resources/people" - a description that could apply equally to 20th century Soviet socialism as 21st century turbocapitalism, Matt. Indeed, one that fits slightly better, as capitalism in its more liberal variants at least creates the space for political contestation (of which you are living and impressive example).

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